Song 333: Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Christmastime Is Here” (1965)

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I love Christmas music, but I make myself wait until the day after Thanksgiving until diving in, lest the songs become as stale as fruitcake. This year, with Thanksgiving coming so late in the month, the Christmas music period will last only three weeks and a bit, which means I have to cram a lot of it into a short period. Get ready!

Like many, I consider A Charlie Brown Christmas and its soundtrack album to be essential parts of the season. Considering the TV special is only 25 minutes long, it’s pretty amazing how influential it’s become. The same goes for the soundtrack album, which consists of songs that capture both the joy and melancholy of the Christmas season. That combination is what I love most about the record, and about Christmas.

Vince Guaraldi was hired for A Charlie Brown Christmas after producer Lee Mendelson heard Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” on the radio while riding in a taxi going over the Golden Gate Bridge. In an interview later, Mendelson said,  “I think the Guaraldi music was crucial to its success. Because that was the first time a cartoon had used jazz, had used adult music. That raised it to a certain level.”

And what is that “certain level”? At the risk of sounding too lofty, I think that level may be humanity. There’s an honesty at work in this music, an acceptance that life is full of happy and sad moments, sometimes simultaneously. I think that’s why the record—and “Christmastime Is Here” in particular—is so great, and why so many people have embraced it. A Charlie Brown Christmas is not only a welcome antidote to the myriad saccharine Christmas shows on television every year, but there’s just nothing like it. It dares to assume that not all of us can handle a joy-only view of the holidays. It’s the occasional loneliness that makes togetherness so special.

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